This conversation took place between Tillman Franks and Jerry Naylor on the stage of the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium, home of the Louisiana Hayride, in May 2001.
Tillman: If these boards could talk … this stage that we’re sitting on … it would tell incredible stories. Lots of memories on this stage!
Jerry: Think about all the changes that have been made from here. Not only in the lives of myself and yourself and the other entertainers, but the lives that have been changed around the world from the entertainers that you brought here to perform.
Tillman: It’s just remarkable when you think that two of the greatest entertainers that’s ever been in our business was Elvis Presley and Hank Williams. And, they both started right here at the Louisiana Hayride. I worked with Hank when he first came here. I booked him his first dates–gave him a suit to wear. I had my white suit tailored down to fit him. You know, Jerry, that same white suit is the one Hank Williams is wearing in the photo the U.S. Postal Service is using for the stamp honoring him. The first date I booked for him was in Palhatten. I think he made around $40, but he was proud to get it. I played bass with him the first night he did the “Lovesick Blues” on the Louisiana Hayride. It was February 5, 1948, that I played bass fiddle with him right here on this stage.
“Tillman Gets Elvis on the Phone”
Jerry: Elvis had a less than exciting experience with his one song, “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” in 1954 on the Grand Ole Opry. They kinda didn’t know what the deal was because here he was singing the classic of all classics from Bill Monroe, and doing it in a jump-style they didn’t understand. But you understood it, Tillman, and booked him here at the Louisiana Hayride.
Tillman: I was trying to get Horace Logan to let Jimmy and Johnny off one Saturday night to play a date in Texas. They were the hottest act here. I was starvin’ to death. My phone had been taken out and I got the chance to book them for $500. So, I told Horace that if I get this new “black singer” that sings, with a funny name–he said, “What’s his name?”–and I said, “His name is Elvis Presley and it’s the number one requested record on T. Tommy’s radio program. If I can get him will you let him on?” He said, “Yeah.” So, I called T. Tommy up and I asked him about that “black boy” singing funny with that funny name. I said, “Man, he sings good.” I asked him how I could get ahold of him, and he told me Sam Phillips had him. So, I called Sam and told him I wanted to book his boy. Phillips said Elvis was coming by the Sun studio that afternoon around three o’clock. I gave Sam Pappy Covington’s office telephone number—you remember that my phone was still shut off for not paying the bill—and asked him to call me ‘cause I wanted his boy on the Hayride. About three o’clock that afternoon I was at Pappy’s office and Sam called. He said, “Just a minute, let me get Elvis,” and when Elvis got on the phone, he said, “Mr. Franks, I understand you might be able to get me on the Louisiana Hayride.” And I quickly answered, “I think I can.”
“October 16, 1954 – Elvis’ First Appearance on the Louisiana Hayride”
Tillman: When Elvis came here that night he was real nervous, and the first show he didn’t do too good. Elvis, Scotty Moore and Bill Black started working with D. J. Fontana on drums when they first came to the Louisiana Hayride. D. J. played behind the curtain–they wouldn’t let him out on stage. I got with Scotty and Bill in the corner, and I told him, “Don’t worry, just do anything you want to. They can’t fire you, they haven’t hired you yet.” And so the next time he went out there he began to jump around. Kids began to scream pretty good. He got some real good reaction.
“Tillman Takes Elvis and the Boys on the Road”
Jerry: Wednesday, January 5th of 1955, was an earth-shattering night for me because that was the first time I worked with and saw Elvis Presley. That was in San Angelo, Texas. How did you get that booked?
Tillman: Joe Treadway was the manager and part owner of KPEP radio station, and I made a percentage date with Joe where we got Elvis for 5 days, I think, for $1,000. San Angelo was one of them. I sent the posters out, and I think you put them up, Jerry.
Jerry: I put the posters up, took the tickets at the front door of the auditorium, and then ran back around and performed my opening songs. And then I stood there and watched the world change!!!
“Three Night In West Texas”
Jerry: The next night was Lubbock, Texas. Now, think about this. I saw Elvis there in San Angelo, and that really jump-started my career, thanks to you. The next night Buddy Holly, who was working for our sister station, KDAV, in Lubbock, playing bluegrass and country, saw Elvis for the first time and immediately began playing Rockabilly music.
Tillman: Jerry, you know when we took Elvis Presley out to West Texas to do that little tour with Billy Walker and Jimmy and Johnny headlining—and of course you were on those dates, too–West Texas was just waiting for Elvis Presley to explode!
Jerry: Yeah, and the next night of the same three-night run in West Texas was Midland, and there was Roy Orbison. Now, Roy was with the Wink Westerners doing his little country thing, struggling to unleash his greatness. Orbison saw Elvis at the show you promoted and said, “I can do that!” And he got his guitar and started working on “Ooby Dooby,” and as we say the rest is history. So, in those three nights what you gave the world with your promotion with Joe Treadway, Dave Stone, and Elvis, Scotty and Bill, literally changed the world. The Beatles and Rolling Stones came from that, and all the other acts that followed. All of us, from The Crickets to Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, to Buddy Knox, and the list goes on and on.
Tillman: Well, Jerry, when you talk like that, I almost feel like crying when I realize all that happened, and how the world changed. You know this all goes back to October 16, 1954, when Elvis Presley stepped out on this stage for the first time and sang, “That’s All Right Mama.” Add to that September 9, 1952, when Hank Williams walked to the center of this stage, right where we’re now sitting, and sang “Jambalaya”—and this was only three months before his tragic death. Hank Williams created an ever-lasting legacy right here with his classic self-written songs! Elvis Presley sang a rhythm and blues song, and sang it white. In other words, he created Rockabilly music—and made history. Now, from THIS stage, and through all we were able to do with these legends, Rockabilly music was spread throughout the world like wildfire. All from the Louisiana Hayride.
Excerpt from The Rockabilly Legends DVD Documentary 2-DVD Set.